ATB: Northwestern’s Hard Knock Life, Bubble Bumps At USF & CSU, and Early Conference Tourney Action…

Posted by rtmsf on March 1st, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. From this point forward until Selection Sunday, it’s busy season. Between all the conference tournaments and the wrangling of the power conference teams trying to peacock their way onto the right side of the bubble, there are no more quiet nights around the world of college basketball. And why should there be — after all, it’s March. Several teams across the landscape tonight helped their cases in this, the last week of the regular season, but it was one hard-luck squad that caught our eye as the most compelling storyline for what they were (once again) unable to do — win a ‘necessary’ game. Let’s jump in…

Your Watercooler Moment. Northwestern’s Tortured Souls.

Northwestern Can Never Seem To Catch A Break (Chicago Tribune/N. DiNuzzo)

There are tortured souls, and there are fans of teams that reside on the north side of Chicago. The Cubs are perhaps American sports’ longest running laugh-a-thon, but for Northwestern basketball fans, they’ve simply never even reached the status of relevance. At least the Cubs actually won the World Series in 1907 and 1908 and have made the MLB playoffs as recently as four years ago. The Wildcats? Oh-fer. In 73 years of NCAA Tournaments, Northwestern has never received an invitation to college basketball’s marquee event. Under Bill Carmody, they’ve been close — a seventh-place Big Ten finish in 2009, an eighth place finish in 2010 — but there always seemed to be a couple late season heart-breakers that sealed the Wildcats’ fate. This year has been particularly brutal, especially in winnable home games. A one-point loss to Illinois; a two-point defeat to Purdue; an overtime L to Michigan… and then tonight’s game against Ohio State. After a late 8-0 run punctuated by an Alex Marcotullio three-pointer tied the game at 73-all with 7.7 seconds left, Northwestern could taste the capstone victory it needed to finally solidify its spot on the sweet side of the bubble. Instead, OSU’s Aaron Craft immediately drove the ball upcourt to find his All-America big man, Jared Sullinger (22/18), on the right side of the lane for a relatively easy turn and punch off glass to give the Buckeyes a two-point lead. John Shurna’s half-court shot to win fell short, and Northwestern fans once again walked out of the arena with disappointment written on their faces. Of course, the season isn’t over yet, and the Wildcats will play at Iowa on Saturday to try to get to 8-10 in the Big Ten race, and there’s still the Big Ten Tournament next week. Still, beating a top 10 team like the Buckeyes would have really helped their resume, and if Carmody’s team is once again left to the NIT again on Selection Sunday, they’ll look back at this game as yet another golden opportunity missed. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume XII

Posted by jbaumgartner on February 28th, 2012

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED….Kansas and Missouri making a play for Game of the Year. I still think you can’t top the North Carolina/Duke game, but for momentum swings and quality, Saturday’s game in Lawrence was right up there. I don’t know if I’m more impressed with how well Missouri played in a ridiculously hostile environment, or that Kansas found a way to win after getting down big. Either way, I think I like both teams’ Final Four prospects better after that one.

I LOVED….Pat Knight’s rant. No, it probably wasn’t the best choice of words or the most thought-out statement. But you have to love when coaches just say what’s on their mind and don’t give the usual coach-speak BS. Fans love getting an unfiltered view, and Pat did his dad proud with that sound-off.

I LOVED….trying to figure out what UConn can even do to make the NCAA Tournament. They’re 17-11 and 7-9 in the Big East, with games against Providence and Pittsburgh left. They’ve beaten Florida State, Harvard, St. John’s and Notre Dame as far as OK wins go. Outside of winning the Big East Tourney, obviously (which started last season’s title run), I’d say Jim Calhoun’s underachieving group has to win out and win two games in MSG – maybe three. Any guesses?

I LOVED….wondering if Georgetown has found its happy place. I seriously haven’t thought about the Hoyas for more than five seconds all year, and it usually consists of – “Is it February yet? OK, they’re finished.” But here they are with just six losses and in the Top 10 as we get set to enter into March. Perhaps GU has lowered our late-season expectations so much that they’ve finally stopped pressing?

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Tyler Zeller and Mason Plumlee Named Academic All-Americans

Posted by mpatton on February 23rd, 2012

Tyler Zeller and Mason Plumlee make up the front line of the NCAA Academic All-American team with Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, St. Mary’s Matthew Dellavedova, and Wofford’s Brad Loesing. This is Zeller’s second straight year being honored for his efforts in the classroom, and he was selected as the 2012 Capital One Academic All-America of the Year. Zeller is the ACC’s first back-to-back Academic All-American since Duke’s Shane Battier was selected in 2000 and 2001.

Tyler Zeller named Academic All America of the Year.

Zeller is majoring in business administration with a 3.62 GPA. On the court he is one of the favorites for conference player of the year thanks to his 15.6 points a game and 9.4 rebounds a game. Plumlee is double-majoring in psychology and cultural anthropology and he iss nearly putting up a double-double this season with 11.2 points and 9.7 boards per contest this season.

The two will face off March 3 in Durham in the final game of regular season ACC play.

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Should Meyers Leonard Go Pro After This Season?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 16th, 2012

Uncertainty looms over Assembly Hall in Champaign nowadays as the Fighting Illini lost another game to Purdue on Wednesday night, their seventh loss out of eight games. Will the Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas get rid of Bruce Weber?  Will the Illini make the NCAA tournament?  These are legitimate questions on the minds of the Illini faithful but the biggest question is about their star center, Meyers Leonard’s future: will he come back for his junior season in Champaign? Let’s examine a few non-personal factors that might drive the sophomore’s decision regarding the NBA.

Leonard Has A Tough Decision To Make At The End Of The Season

Why should he leave for the NBA 

  1. You can’t teach 7’1″.” – NBA scouts love to use that cliché. Leonard has all the physical tools to play the center position at the next level. He has shown that he can add muscle over the off-season (added 30 lbs) and certainly has the intensity to hang with the big guys on a nightly basis in the NBA. Averaging eight boards per game isn’t too shabby in the Big Ten, which is known for the physical brand of play. Defensively, he has been a highlight reel during the season as he has swatted balls into the second row of the sidelines, including a game-winning block against Northwestern on the road. Most of the NBA draft boards, such as NBADraft.net have him slated as a potential lottery pick. The scouts will waste no time trying to convince him about going pro after the college season because they might have seen enough for somebody with his physical build. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he has reached his ceiling in the college game, or maybe he did under the current coach.
  2. Bruce Weber will coach Illinois in 2013 – Bruce Weber is not a bad coach because he understands the talented sophomore and his significance to the Illini offense. Even though Leonard could improve on his scoring average from this season of 13.2 points per game, he might have hit the ceiling in Weber’s system. True centers that have the skills to play with the back to their basket don’t shine under Weber’s offensive philosophy. The motion offense under Weber has been designed around guards who can shoot the deep ball. Illinois has been at the bottom of the league for years in terms of free throws per game (only 32.5% in 2012) because most of the offensive plays revolve around screens for the shooters rather than an attacking brand of basketball.  During their recent losing skid, Weber tries to commit to the big man over the first few minutes of the game but during the late minutes, most of the shots end up being away from the paint. Historically, centers that prefer to play in the post such as Shaun Pruitt have been frustrated in Weber’s system. Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale rarely played with their backs to the basket or in the paint because they relied heavily upon the 15-footer from the baseline coming off the pick-and-roll plays. Leonard’s offensive game is more than a baseline jumper or a post move – he is a monster when he attacks the hoop off the picks but Weber has not and will not be able to utilize him better next season unless he adjusts his system. If Leonard comes back for a third year with an improved game, the skills need to be utilized efficiently by the coach otherwise his draft stock won’t improve after another year in college.
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Set Your TiVo: 02.15.12

Posted by EJacoby on February 15th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

It’s a national affair tonight, as two big games take place about 3,000 miles away, from Miami to San Diego. You’ll get to watch the Tar Heels play on the road against a hungry opponent and two of the top Mountain West teams line up looking to continue the streak of great games taking place in that conference race. Here’s the breakdown:

#7 North Carolina at Miami- 8:00 PM ET on ESPN (****)

Tyler Zeller is Running Full Speed Ahead as ACC Player of the Week Heading into Tonight (AP Photo/G. Broome)

  • If it wasn’t for the final four-minute collapse against Duke last week, this Tar Heels team would be rolling right now and in position to shoot for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with a strong finish. Instead, they dropped that game at home and need to build momentum back up, as well as their overall profile. Many mock brackets have Carolina on the 3-line this week. A road win here at surging Miami will not be easy, but the Tar Heels should be able to get it done if they stick to their guns offensively. Both teams have big front lines that will match up one-on-one, but UNC has the better playmakers. Tyler Zeller has been awesome lately and should be able to use his agility against the thicker Reggie Johnson inside. If he draws Kenny Kadji, he will look to use his experienced post moves against the jumpy shot-blocker. Carolina has the size advantage on the wings and will need Reggie Bullock to step up offensively to take advantage. Harrison Barnes will be monitored closely by the U’s top wing defender Durand Scott, so watch how aggressive Barnes chooses to be. Defensively, UNC needs to stay out of foul trouble against an aggressive though not very efficient Miami attack.
  • A win tonight would all but lock up Miami’s status as an at-large entry to the NCAA Tournament, as they have a questionable overall profile but are certainly on the rise. To get this win, the Hurricanes need to play strong on the defensive end. They have the athletes in Kenny Kadji (1.8 BPG), Reggie Johnson (1.1 BPG), and Durand Scott (6’5” guard, 1.1 SPG) to make plays on that end. Freshman guard Shane Larkin averages 1.8 steals per night and will look to bother Kendall Marshall on the perimeter all night. On their own end, Miami has a balanced attack but must use better shot selection. They have four players in double-digit scoring but rank just sixth in the conference in offensive efficiency and seventh in field goal percentage. Making shots is their ticket to a serious shot at victory tonight.
  • UNC is a five-point favorite tonight, but Miami has the goods to take this upset if they can make shots on their home floor. A rocking crowd tonight would be a huge boost. I think Carolina presents too many problems on both ends of the floor and will walk away with a win tonight, though it should be tight.
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ACC Game On: 2.15.12 Edition

Posted by KCarpenter on February 15th, 2012

Winning on the road in the ACC will always be difficult as Virginia discovered at Clemson last night. It’s tempting to paint this win as a big upset and while it’s certainly a meaningful win for the Tigers, let’s not forget that Clemson was favored heading into the match-up. It’s a good win, but not particularly surprising. So in that same vein, tonight, we have two tough road tests on the schedule.

The Headliners

  • #7 North Carolina at Miami at 8:00 PM on ESPN

Miami, with the big win against Duke and solid in-conference performance, has played its way onto the bubble. Unfortunately, the Hurricanes are still very much a marginal team when it comes to the Big Dance. Miami needs to either win tonight against North Carolina or beat Florida State in the rematch of last weekend’s game, and probably needs to do both to warrant serious tournament consideration. Beating North Carolina is a tall order, but the results of the teams’ last meeting offers some encouragement for the Hurricanes. The 17-point win in the ACC conference opener happened before the integration of Shane Larkin into the Miami starting line up and before North Carolina’s loss of Dexter Strickland. Miami now starts an ultra-quick three guard line-up that includes Larkin, who managed six steals in 24 minutes last meeting, while North Carolina now lacks a speedy perimeter defender. Duke exposed North Carolina’s susceptibility to a well-timed three-point barrage and Miami is better positioned to exploit that than ever. Also worth mentioning is the stellar job that the Hurricanes did in limiting the effectiveness of Harrison Barnes who went 2-of-12 in the previous face-off. Miami has these advantages and the homecourt and have a real chance at upsetting the Tar Heels. Yet, when push comes to shove, North Carolina still has the clear edge. What the Tar Heels lack in perimeter speed they make up for with size and length. While the duo of Reggie Johnson and Kenny Kadji has been tough to defend, Tyler Zeller and John Henson match up well. Henson can be effective against Kadji’s inside-out game and Zeller has the offensive savvy to get Johnson into foul trouble early.

The Opening Act

  • Georgia Tech at Wake Forest at 7:30 PM on ESPN3.com

If Boston College didn’t exist, these two teams would each only have a single conference win. Still, one of these teams will leave this game the winner and despite Wake Forest’s home court advantage, I think Georgia Tech has the edge in this game because of their superior rebounding. Wake Forest can offset most of their disadvantages through a big night from Travis McKie and C.J. Harris, but even then, it’s not clear if the Demon Deacons can get enough significant contributions from the rest of the team to walk away with the win. In any case, this game should be closely contested even if aesthetically unpleasant.

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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume XI

Posted by jbaumgartner on February 15th, 2012

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED….objectively realizing that you just saw one of the more dramatic shots in college basketball over the last 10 years. Factor in everything – a freshman, playing on the road, time expiring, a three-point shot when you’re down two, UNC/Duke – and I’ll put Austin Rivers’ three up against anything I’ve seen. Cold-blooded doesn’t do it justice – that rainbow was sub-Arctic. The only mark against the buzzer-beater is that it came in the regular season, but for the silent (and I mean drop-a-pin silent) Carolina fans on Wednesday, that was little consolation as they watched Duke pile on their Baby Blue home floor in celebration.

As A College Basketball Fan, Austin Rivers' Three Was As Dramatic As They Come. As a UNC Grad...Well, You Get The Picture (AP)

I LOVED….Michigan State stoning Ohio State on the road. For me, it both validates this Spartans team as a contender and cements the Big Ten as one of the most balanced and competitive conferences this season (five teams currently in the Top 25). Last season might have been a big disappointment, but you can’t say enough about the coaching job that Tom Izzo has done this year.

I LOVED….Michigan State’s Draymond Green getting some love and validation this season. Not to make this a Spartan-happy column, but Green has really stepped up as a senior after maybe getting overshadowed a bit by the talent around him in previous years. He’s one of the most well-rounded players in the nation (15 PPG/10.5 RPG/3.5 APG/1.0 BPG/36% 3FG), and he kept this group focused after a bit of a rough start. Now MSU is looking more legit with each passing week.

I LOVED….Gonzaga reminding Saint Mary’s exactly which program has dominated the West Coast Conference for the last decade-plus. It’s easy to take the Zags for granted or root for more parity in the conference (I often do both), but don’t forget that Mark Few’s Bulldogs thrashed Notre Dame, Butler and Arizona, lost a close game to Michigan State and beat Xavier on the road. Don’t sleep on ‘em.

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ACC Morning Five: 02.14.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on February 14th, 2012

  1. Duke Magazine: This is a very, very good profile of Mike Krzyzewski by Bridget Booher. She covers his love for gardening, his hiring at Duke, his surgery and his future retirement. The article looks at the challenges Krzyzewski has faced as a coach, and the solutions he and his family came up with to deal with them. How many articles are you going to read with an A Farewell To Arms reference today? I wish the article talked about his Olympic coaching, but this is definitely the must-read article of the day.
  2. Fayetteville Observer: Stephen Schramm and Bret Strelow picked their mid-season ACC awards. First, I agree completely that player of the year is a two-man race between Mike Scott and Tyler Zeller. Scott holds the edge because of his relative importance for the Cavaliers, but Zeller is definitely gaining ground. For coach of the year I think Steve Donahue is a legitimate choice despite his team’s struggles. The Eagles are demolishing expectations despite being inexperienced, unathletic and untalented (that’s a little harsh but only by a little). I would give a little more love to Bernard James for defensive player of the year, though I think John Henson and Jontel Evans are strong candidates as well. For most improved, Mason Plumlee and Richard Howell also probably deserve mentions.
  3. Mobile Press-Register: Tommy Hicks checked in with Mark Gottfried about his new job at North Carolina State, sandwiched near Duke and North Carolina. Gottfried compared the intensity to a hypothetical situation of Alabama having LSU 20 miles away and Auburn 10 miles away. If he was being historically accurate, I think NC State is more like Auburn (minus the Cam Newton experience).
  4. ACC Sports Journal: Rivalry games are funny things. They’re built up and built up, but in the end it’s one win or one loss and takes no longer than any other game. That’s what Duke and North Carolina are trying to deal with right now. Coach K used footage from Duke’s wins over UNLV and Kentucky from the early 1990s (en route to national championships) to try to teach sustained effort. Meanwhile Roy Williams tried to move past the disappointing loss and on to greater tests.
  5. Orlando Sentinel: “You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not smashing it.” That’s the adage Mike Bianchi used to describe former Florida State athletic director Dave Hart, who hired and stuck with head coach Leonard Hamilton. It still blows my mind that, even this year, Seminole fans have called for Hamilton’s job. Sure hindsight is always 20/20, but Hamilton has Florida State with its best chance to win an ACC regular season title for the first time ever. That’s pretty good.
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Rivalry Week Lessons Learned

Posted by zhayes9 on February 13th, 2012

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Now that football season is finally in the rear view mirror, college basketball has stepped into its rightful place on the national radar. The previous week has brought us a slew of thrilling rivalries, intra-conference showdowns and last-second finishes in the endless pursuit to decipher which teams have the capabilities to make a deep March run. The rigors of conference play, especially in hostile environments facing a despised foe, exposes flaws hidden early in the season by facing inferior opposition. In the last week alone, my perception of a number of top teams has altered drastically. Here are the lessons gleaned from a week of non-stop college basketball viewing:

John Calipari might have his best team in Lexington

A zone defense could be Kentucky’s kryptonite: Containing the Wildcats’ absurd quickness off the dribble, Teague-to-Davis pick-and-roll dunks and overall athleticism is nearly impossible playing straight man defense. Vanderbilt attempted to stay in front of Kentucky’s guards with the pillowy soft man-to-man defense of Brad Tinsley and John Jenkins early in the first half Saturday and failed miserably. Faced with a double-digit deficit, a zone defense combined with hot shooting turned the tide. A zone not only limits ball screening and penetration, but it goads Kentucky into firing up threes, where only Doron Lamb is an elite marksman from deep. Luckily for Calipari and the Cats, neither Mississippi State nor Florida – their two toughest road tests on the docket the remainder of the season – utilizes a zone the majority of the time. A matchup with Syracuse on April 2 would be fascinating.

Ohio State’s perimeter play is a definite concern: Saturday’s unsightly home loss to Michigan State – coupled with Kentucky’s near-invincibility since Christian Watford’s game-winner in December – was the first time I legitimately re-considered my prevailing thought that the Buckeyes would play for a national title April 2 in New Orleans. The Spartans are a top-ten outfit and special on the defensive end, but I’m unconvinced that Ohio State’s guards can provide enough in the scoring column to help the overworked Jared Sullinger in the post. Defenses can go under screens and sag off Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith plays due to his defensive prowess and William Buford’s declining offensive rating and effective FG% back up his inconsistent shooting outputs. If Sullinger runs into another physical frontcourt presence similar to Sparty’s Adreian Payne – or UK’s Josh Harrellson dating back to last year’s Sweet 16 – the Bucks may fall short of their perennially lofty goals.

Tyler Zeller is the best player in the ACC: In the battle of the two best overall players in the conference, Carolina’s Zeller (25 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals) outplayed Virginia’s Mike Scott (18 points, 6 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals) to take the lead in ACC POY discussions. Zeller’s value to the Heels isn’t limited to the box score; the 7-foot center routinely tops UNC coaching staff’s defensive rankings and is one of the top charge-takers in the nation. His ability to run rim-to-rim and spark Carolina’s patented fast break leads to an abundance of easy baskets and that left shoulder jump hook is often unstoppable. His marvelous first half performance against Duke on Wednesday is easily lost in the shuffle due to end-of-game heroics, but he single-handedly kept Carolina within striking distance with his play on both ends. Scott means more to the Cavs, but Zeller is the best player in the league.

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Set Your TiVo: 02.11.12 – 02.12.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 10th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Plenty of top 25 games are on Saturday’s slate while conference races heat up and bubble teams look for key wins.

#20 Virginia at #5 North Carolina – 1:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (****)

  • Coming off the crushing home loss to Duke on Wednesday, how will the Tar Heels respond? Without P.J. Hairston (sore foot) in the lineup, things could get a little dicey for #5 UNC. Hairston’s absence severely limits Carolina’s already thin back court depth. This game is going to be all about pace. Virginia plays at one of the slowest paces in the nation while North Carolina is one of the fastest teams. Point guard Kendall Marshallhas to get his team running as much as they can but we’ve seen time and time again how it is much easier to slow a game down than it is to speed it up. Wisconsin did this effectively at the Dean Dome earlier this season and you’re going to see the same blueprint from Virginia. The Cavaliers do a great job defending the three-point arc so UNC will likely get almost all of its points from inside or the free throw line. The Tar Heels are among the bottom five teams in America in terms of threes attempted to begin with and get 61.8% of their points from two-point range on average. Marshall and his teammates must be able to penetrate and move the ball well against Virginia’s strong half court defense.

    How Will Marshall & The Tar Heels Respond To Tuesday's Last Second Loss?

  • Virginia’s biggest strengths are its defense and play of forward Mike Scott. At 60.3% from the field, Scott is among the best interior players in the nation, but will have to receive some help from a thin UVA front line in this game. Led by Tyler Zeller and John Henson, North Carolina has a ton of height up front that could give Scott a lot of problems. With Assane Sene still out with an ankle injury, the burden of helping Scott against UNC’s imposing front line falls to Akil Mitchell. His presence will be needed more on the defensive end to limit Zeller and Henson but Virginia is not going to win if Scott doesn’t score. Mitchell must be enough of a threat to prevent quick double teams on Scott, allowing him to maneuver around the UNC trees. Defensively, Virginia will look to pack its defense in and prevent Marshall from penetrating and dishing to Zeller and Henson. Making opponents take tough shots is something Virginia does really well and the Cavaliers will need to do it again. Harrison Barnes will likely oblige but Mitchell and Scott must force Zeller and Henson into shots outside the paint or falling away from the basket. If you allow those guys to receive the ball in the paint, you’re finished.
  • Even though Virginia will likely slow the game down to a pace of its liking, the Cavaliers still must score the basketball. Sammy Zeglinski is five for his last 19 from the floor over the past three games and Jontel Evans has to have a good game at the point guard position. Virginia can’t turn the ball over and fuel the Carolina transition attack. It would also help if Joe Harris was knocking down triples, especially if Zeglinski can’t get out of his funk. Keep an eye on rebounding. North Carolina did a great job against Duke, showing some toughness on the glass that we haven’t always seen this year. Virginia is fourth nationally in defensive rebounding percentage but the Cavs really struggle on the offensive end. If the shots aren’t falling, Virginia will have a lot of one and done possessions if it can’t do a better job on the offensive glass. Good rebounding also helps a team control tempo and that’s exactly what Virginia needs to do in order to win this game on the road.

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ACC Game On: 02.09.12 Edition

Posted by KCarpenter on February 9th, 2012

Man, ACC play is so boring and predictable.  Rivalries without luster, no intrigue. Blegh.  I can barely remember anything that happened last night.

Austin Rivers... For the Win (Getty)

Of course, I’m kidding as Austin Rivers hit the shot to give Duke a miraculous win against North Carolina in the finest rivalry in college sports. Rivers was truly impressive, but it’s hard to know what lesson to take away from Duke’s victory. If I told Roy Williams that his team would shoot better from the field, indeed, shooting nearly 50%, score 20 points from the free throw line, and turn the ball over less than 10 times, he would probably be happy with that. That’s what Carolina did and it simply wasn’t enough. How did Duke win? Well first, the game plan is the perfect illustration of how one should take down North Carolina. Mike Krzyzewski’s game plan leveraged the greatest weakness in North Carolina’s defense: the perimeter. Duke took an astounding 36 three-point shots, making an impressive 14. As an illustration of how insane this is, Wake Forest in their loss against Virginia last night managed to shoot only 41 field goals. Of all the field goals that Duke took, 58.1% of the shots were three-pointers. On the season, no team is averaging over 50% threes. By making them at a 38.9% clip, it didn’t matter how Duke performed on defense or if they could score on the interior. If Duke can maintain this style of leveraged offensive efficiency, they are going to be really hard to stop. Perfectly game-planned. By contrast, North Carolina shot six three-pointers and made one.

The other thing that Duke did really well against North Carolina was get to the free throw line. North Carolina is the best team in the country at not fouling, but with consistent driving, Duke somehow managed to get to the line 26 times. It was an impressive performance, which is one of the other reasons this game is a bit confusing. As good as Duke was at scoring, sheer ineptitude on the glass and indifferent defense almost totally offset all the impressive things that Duke did. Remember it took a weird accidental defensive tip-in from Tyler Zeller for Duke to eke out a one-point victory. As good as a win is this is, would Duke even be considered the favorite for the rematch at home? It was a memorable and miraculous win, but the exceptional, rare nature of miracles makes it hard to draw any conclusions from a maddeningly inconsistent Duke team.

Of course, considering the nature of North Carolina’s bizarre last two minute collapse, the Tar Heels have just as much if not more soul-searching to do.

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Night Line: Instant Classic a Result of Duke’s Late-Game Execution, UNC’s Lack of It

Posted by EJacoby on February 9th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor to RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

Austin Rivers’ three-ball went down for Duke at the buzzer, and Mike Krzyzewski’s team walked away with a stunning road victory in Chapel Hill on Wednesday night. This 85-84 Blue Devils win will always be remembered for the freshman guard’s late-game heroics, but there were plenty of other factors that played into the result. By now, I assume everyone has seen the shot, which will undoubtedly go down as one of the all-time great moments in the 92-year history of the Tobacco Road rivalry. But it cannot be forgotten that this game was actually not a back-and-forth classic between the two teams. North Carolina led the entire second half, including a nine-point advantage at the under-four minute timeout, and gave the game away by failing to make any winning plays down the stretch. Meanwhile, Duke was clinical from the outside and knocked down clutch shot after clutch shot, capped off by the game-winning shot by Rivers as time expired. All that was left from there was a completely silenced Dean Smith Center, an elated Blue Devils sideline, and a moment that will be replayed hundreds of times this season.

Austin Rivers is About to Silence a Crowd of Thousands in this Game-Winning Shot for Duke (Getty Images)

If you want to know why North Carolina blew an 11-point lead at home with 4:09 to play, the answer certainly begins with the clutch play of Duke’s Rivers. But it doesn’t end there. He had a career-high 29 points on 6-10 shooting from three, but one man cannot be solely responsible for erasing a double-figure lead in four minutes. Instead, look at the home team’s attempts to close out the game and what they did wrong, which includes three missed free throws, three offensive rebounds allowed, two turnovers, and a total of one field-goal attempted in the final four-plus minutes. Leading 79-68, UNC allowed Duke to score after a missed three with a second-chance putback. Then came the barrage of mistakes, which were incurred on offense by way of clanked free throws and lost-ball turnovers. On the other end, Duke was 6-8 from the field to close out the game with three huge three-pointers and three other deep jumpers.

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